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Monday, February 09, 2009

Past Life - Chapter 2, scene 2

(Latest installment. To read the story in order, go to the Writing - Past Life (story) category)

The Vice Chancellor's office was on the second floor of the adjacent block. It looked out across the sports fields and beyond them to the park that Katherine rode through just thirty minutes ago. She took the stairs; preferring movement to a wait for the lift.

"I am afraid he isn't here right now." The secretary said. If you would like to make an appointment, I can book you in for next week. The Vice Chancellor will be away until then."

"But this is important." Katherine said. "All my research papers are being packed up and taken away. I need to get them back to complete my PhD thesis."

The secretary paused for a moment, "You're Katherine Shuuman?"

"Yes." Katherine said, wondering how so many people she had never met suddenly knew her by sight.

The secretary reached into a draw and pulled out an envelope. "The Vice Chancellor left this for you", she said, holding out the cream envelope with the university's crest in the corner.

Another bureaucratic dead end, thought Katherine as she took the proffered envelope. "Thank you" she said. Somewhere deep down and from a long way back, there was a little girl bursting to throw a tantrum, dying to scream out that it wasn't fair and that no one cared about her. But instead she mustered all her self control and asked pleasantly when the Vice Chancellor was due back.

The secretary pulled a diary toward her and leafed through the pages. "He is due back next Tuesday: first thing."

"Well, I would like to make an appointment to see him next Tuesday, please."

The secretary looked at the diary again. "He is free at 11:30 for half an hour. Will that suit?"

"Yes, that will be fine", Katherine said. "Thank you" and she turned and left the office, pleased that she had managed to control the potential outburst.

The day was getting worse. She was starting to feel as though her life was becoming a nightmare in which policemen, men in white coats and secretaries had taken charge. She found a seat in the quad and opened the envelope.

"Dear Miss Shuuman", the Vice Chancellor had written.

"I would have preferred to speak to you personally about this matter, but yesterday my secretary informed me that you were not at work and, as I will be away for a few days, I reluctantly have to write you this letter.

"I regret to inform you that, in the light of Professor Bollinger's sudden death, the university have reluctantly had to close down the research project that you were both working on.

"As you know, the research was funded from outside the university and, under the terms of the funding contract, the sponsors have an exclusive right to the results of that research. In the unique circumstances of this case, they have decided to exercise that right by removing all equipment and documentation produced during the research.

"Obviously this will have a significant impact on your own studies and I am keen to discuss the options with you when I return to the university next week. Please be assured that the university will not allow your career to be unduly impacted by this unfortunate turn of events. In the meantime please take a few days off from your work and I will see you when I return."

"Blah, blah, sincerely, blah." thought Katherine as she skipped over the last few words. She wondered how her career could not be 'unduly impacted', but at least the Vice Chancellor had seemed to be offering some sort of hope for the future. Still, she was no nearer to understanding what had happened than she was when she arrived. And, who the hell were these people who had an "exclusive right" to her work?

Katherine sat for several minutes holding the letter in her hand while she stared vacantly. Finally she seemed to reach a decision, folded the letter and replaced it in the envelope. She made her way back to where she had parked her bicycle, unlocked it and headed back toward her flat. After lunch she had another meeting with the Inspector to look forward to. Maybe something interesting might come of that.

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